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18 September 2014
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Anglo-Saxon Law and Order

By Michael Wood

Image of a coin from Athelstan's reign
A coin from Athelstan's reign ©
The tenth century sees the beginnings of a money economy in England, and coinage is one of the great achievements of the later Anglo-Saxon 'state'. Indeed, it is one of our key pieces of evidence for the very existence of an Anglo-Saxon state.

By Edgar's day, there were many mints in southern England. You had to collect your new coins from a local mint, or take old ones back there to be 'recoined'. By Edgar's day there was nowhere in mainland England, apart from the most mountainous rural areas, that was more than 15 miles from a mint. By then, the government could announce that they were going to recoin - presumably in response to inflationary pressures in the economy.

'... the English monetary system of pounds, shillings and pence survived until the United Kingdom went decimal, in 1971.'

The new coins would carry a new design so there was no confusion with the old issue. This amazingly sophisticated system was far more developed than in any other European country, and remained so for long afterwards. And to cap it all, they allowed regional variations in the coin design. Some, for instance, dispensed with including the king's head in the design altogether, perhaps to appease regional sentiment - something which even today's devisers of the euro feel unable to do.

The way this was organised and executed is in itself a testimony to the success of the Anglo-Saxon state - the English monetary system of pounds, shillings and pence survived until the United Kingdom went decimal, in 1971. Even in 2001, the election opinion polls showed a residual reluctance, on the part of the British public, to part with the British pound and replace it with the euro of the European Community. Perhaps that is not surprising, for the pound is the last symbol of the royal currency put in place all that time ago.

About the author

Michael Wood is the writer and presenter of many critically acclaimed television series, including In the Footsteps of...series. Born and educated in Manchester, Michael did postgraduate research on Anglo-Saxon history at Oxford. Since then he has made over 60 documentary films and written several best selling books. His films have centred on history, but have also included travel, politics and cultural history.


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